Friday, April 16, 2010

Rest in peace, dear classmate; Eternity's only just begun

Matthew 25:14-21

If memory serves, the class song of Dumas (AR) High School's class of 1977 was "We've Only Just Begun" by the Carpenters. It may sound kind of cheezy now, but I'm pretty sure it meant something to us then. Now that I reflect on it, such an ideal can actually be applied to the passing of a loved one - if faith is real.

No matter how much we spend on health care, no matter how much or how little money we have, no matter whether we are loved or have no love, no matter whether we are of the faith - Christian, Jewish, Islam, Buddhist, etc - no matter what kind of cars we drive or how many children we have; indeed, no matter how young or old, death will come to us all. Deep within the recesses of our minds we know this to be true, but we perhaps subconsciously trend toward the fond notion that we can somehow escape it, that it only happens to "someone else". We cannot - or will not - fathom this reality, and because of our subconscious denial we too readily curse the Almighty when death catches us by surprise.

Ours is an ordered society, and our laws help to maintain this order. We live, love, work, and play within this reality, this ordered society and we expect a certain order to follow. And it follows that we live to be 75 years of age, give or take, enjoy retirement with our beloved, and then our children bury us. We never anticipate burying our children, no matter what age. But we also become more consciously aware of our own mortality when someone we know, someone close to our own age, someone we've know all our lives is suddenly gone.

My classmate and I shared what I recall to have been something of a "love-hate" relationship, though I seem to recall having a crush on her back in middle school. She and I lived a stone's throw from one another and saw each other often. In this "love-hate" relationship I perceived, there was enough love that she went out of her way to bring school work to me when I was in the hospital around jr. high school age. Of course I was a marginal student at best, so I hated it when she not only brought this school work to me but even offered to help me get caught up. She cared enough to do this thing, but there was something much deeper.

My classmate was an achiever. From elementary school, I remember her as one who was focused and always had a sound work ethic. She took her school work seriously, and I don't think she could comprehend someone who didn't. Now to write someone off as inconsequential is one thing, but my classmate went out of her way to do what she believed to be the right thing to do. In my mind, of course, she was only trying to annoy me by taking away a very good excuse for not doing any school work. After all, is there not a law that says you don't have to do homework if you're in the hospital? And she was taking my excuse away not merely by bringing me the work but offering to help! Hello! Have we met?? Don't you know me well enough by now??

Yes, she did. She knew me all too well so she knew I lacked focus, I lacked ambition, I lacked motivation. I could not see the forest for the trees, but she could see through and beyond the forest. She knew her hard work would one day pay off (it did), and she knew I was capable of doing as well, and it infuriated her that such gifts go to waste.

I've often wondered what happened after that. I don't really recall details of the event; only the event itself, but I've often wondered if my lack of gratitude was somehow displayed and that I seriously hurt her feelings. I do not recall saying "thank you", but I do recall her genuine enthusiasm in her offer to help me. And I think this was a turning point in whatever kind of relationship we shared. There was a distinctive distance that did not previously exist although there was that time when she found out I was smoking cigarettes. Well, that got me another face full of my classmate, but I think by then I was probably a little more direct in telling her to mind her own business and stop worrying about me. I don't know that she stopped worrying, but I do know she kept me at arm's length from that moment.

Clearly I blew it. Now I had friends. I had a best friend and I had drinking buddies but I do not recall any of these friends taking me to task like this classmate did. I always just thought she enjoyed looking down her nose at me, like she was somehow better than I, like I was somehow beneath her. Well, she didn't; she was, and I was. In spades! It did not occur to me then that she probably showed more care and concern for things that mattered and would matter in my life than most of my other friends even though she had no real stake in my well-being or my accomplishments, but she seemed to have a genuine concern for my lack of accomplishment. Go figure.

After high school I never saw her, never called her, never even tried to make contact. I was out the door and not necessarily ready to move on more than I was just ready to move out. My classmate, however, went directly to college and then to law school. She married her high school sweetheart who also attended law school. They settled back in our hometown and practiced law together in her father-in-law's firm. Life for them was good. They had prepared for it, they had planned for it, they had worked for it, and now they were reaping the rewards by a nice vacation in Italy. Suddenly it was all over.

Though I weep for her family, I am grateful that the last time she and I spoke at our 30-year high school reunion, I was able to finally thank her for the care and concern she tried to bestow on me all those many years before. I was finally able to tell her how much it all came to mean to me even some 30-plus years later. I was finally able to appreciate her gifts and her talents and her compassion, and I was finally able to comprehend that she displayed more friendship to me during those times than most others because the things she concerned herself with really did matter. And I think she could see that my gratitude and apology were from my heart. Truthfully, I don't even know if she really remembered it like I do.

Making the most of everything we've been given, utilizing fully all that is divinely imparted to us is the best life any of us can ever hope to achieve, however much or little it is. I don't think my classmate ever took such things for granted. Indeed, she clearly excelled at all she attempted because she was consciously aware of all her very good gifts, and she knew how to use them. But perhaps the greatest gift with which she had been blessed was that of compassion and care. And I am very glad that my last words to her were not "buzz off" but were, instead, "from the bottom of my heart, dear classmate, thank you". And in eternity in which passing from this life and into the next is not an ending but, rather, a new beginning, my classmate has now heard these immortal words: "Well done, my good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things; now I will make you a ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord." The ultimate achievement for the ultimate achiever.

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